I sat surrounded by a cloud of hundreds of other kids and adults, each wearing all white, singing and praying the words of poet Haim Nahman Bialik’s Shabbat Hamalka as the sun set over Lake Ellis:
הַחַמָּה מֵרֹאשׁ הָאִילָנוֹת נִסְתַּלְּקָה
בּוֹאוּ וְנֵצֵא לִקְרַאת שַׁבָּת הַמַּלְכָּה
The sun on the tree-tops no longer is seen,
Come, gather to welcome the Sabbath, our Queen.
Another week had gone by and Shabbat was finally upon us. Our bunks were clean, our Shabbat-o-grams (notes wishing our friends a sweet Shabbat) were sent and received, and our souls were ready to sing, to pray, to eat, to learn, and to play.
It was at camp where I first experienced a 25-hour immersive Shabbat, where I learned the melodies and the words of our Shabbat prayers and zemirot (songs), and where I began to look forward to the next Shabbat from the moment I heard the sizzle of the havdalah candle in the juice on Saturday night. It was at camp that my love affair with Shabbat began, developed, and evolved.
הִנֵּה הִיא יוֹרֶדֶת הַקְּדוֹשָׁה, הַבְּרוּכָה
וְעִמָּהּ מַלְאָכִים צְבָא שָׁלוֹם וּמְנוּחָה
Behold her descending, the holy, the blest.
With angels-a cohort of peace and of rest.
I felt Shabbat and all of her holiness in the Saturday afternoon study sessions, the informal discussions with friends, and the impromptu song sessions before dinner. Like Bialik’s image of the Shabbat queen surrounded by her cohort of angels, I, too, found myself surrounded and guarded each week by my community. As we sang together my eight-year-old subconscious began to understand what it meant to be a part of a community; to feel an inner peace and rest, a sense of importance and belonging.
Each Shabbat my love grew deeper and my connection to the tradition stronger. I cherished the opportunity to light the candles, to make blessings on my food before and after eating it, to live a life where Judaism was the thread that held my days together and Shabbat the thread that held my weeks together.
I eagerly anticipated the traditional rituals, like singing Friday night kiddush and eating challah, just as much as our own special camp rituals, like eating coffee cake and Pops cereal for breakfast on Shabbat morning and banging on the tables so hard while singing Shabbat songs on Friday night that my hands turned red and hurt the next day.
באי באי המלכה
באי באי הכלה
Come, O Queen
Come, O Bride
What started as a summer fling turned into a long-term relationship. After many summers of feeling a sadness leaving the weekly Shabbat experience when camp ended, I finally felt empowered to take Shabbat home with me. While it was not the same as being in camp, my Shabbat practice unfolded, twisted, and turned as I asked for weekly Shabbat dinners with my family. We made our way to synagogue services more on Friday nights, and I began to keep some of the traditional laws of Shabbat.
שלום עליכם, מלאכי השלום
Peace be unto you, O Angels of Peace.
As I eagerly welcome the Shabbat queen each week, first at BJ with the words of Kabbalat Shabbat and then at home with shalom aleikhem and kiddush, I think back longingly to when our love began—to the days of wearing all white, to the sun setting over the lake, to my community surrounding me in song. I am forever grateful for my transformative experience at Jewish summer camp—a gift that keeps on giving.
As you prepare for Shabbat this week, I invite you to put on your Shabbat whites and experience a taste of the camp ruah (spirit) with me, Mike Witman, Michael Harlow, and Deborah Sacks Mintz this evening at 5:30PM for a special camp-themed Camp Family Jam.